Published on 13th July, 2019 by Dr. Sanveen Kang
In recent years, with gains in research around psychological disorders, there has been a deeper understanding around intervention and most importantly when to intervene. The focus of intervening early is centred around minimizing potential developmental delay. Children’s earliest experiences play a critical role in brain development. Here are some interesting facts about brain development identified by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University:
Neural circuits, which create the foundation for learning, behavior and health, are most flexible or “plastic” during the first three years of life. Over time, they become increasingly difficult to change.
Persistent “toxic” stress, such as extreme poverty, abuse and neglect, or severe maternal depression can damage the developing brain, leading to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.
The brain is strengthened by positive early experiences, especially stable relationships with caring and responsive adults, safe and supportive environments, and appropriate nutrition.
Early social/ emotional development and physical health provide the foundation upon which cognitive and language skills develop.
Many psychiatric conditions have been rooted in the early stages of life. The chronicity and morbidity vary among disorders. Disorders such as mood conditions (e.g. Anxiety and Depression), obsessive compulsive disorder, disordered eating patterns and autism spectrum (ASD) have been known to be chronic conditions. The influence of early life is also evident when working with individuals with difficulty regulating emotions such as anger; forming and sustaining friendships and intimate relationships; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and substance abuse. Recent developments in research on the brain and mood indicates that longer periods of maladaptive and dysfunctional thoughts and behaviour have cumulative effects and, can influence the capacity for recovery.
Without intervention, childhood disorders frequently continue into adulthood. Since children develop rapidly, delivering mental health services early is necessary to avoid permanent consequences and to ensure that children are ready for school and their upcoming adult life. High quality early intervention services can change a child’s developmental trajectory and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. Intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided earlier in life rather than later. Hence, the early detection and treatment may result in a better prognosis and functional outcome in adult life.
Positive early experiences are essential prerequisites for later success in school, the workplace, and the community. Services to young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays have been shown to positively impact outcomes across developmental domains, including health, language and communication, cognitive development and social/emotional development. Families also benefit from early intervention by being able to better meet their children’s special needs from an early age and throughout their lives. This results in greater parental satisfaction and reduction in parental stress and discord.
Overall, early detection and intervention aims to reduce the associated dependency and disabilities during one’s adult years. Early and reliable recognition and the provision of effective treatments and care assist in maintaining optimal functioning, reducing the likelihood of family, social and academic/work disruption. Remember, it is never too early to get help.